Could there be a more deserving winner of the 2011 Scody’s People Choice award? No way, Jose, writes a sobered-up Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

He
said it in jest but perhaps there was a skerrick of truth when Cadel
Evans, the Sir Hubert Opperman Trophy winner at the 2011 Australian
Cyclist of the Year Awards, jokingly said at the start of his acceptance
speech: "People's Choice [award] – that's the one [you want] to win… no
disrespect to Sir Hubert Opperman."

For Anna Meares to have
trumped the first Australian winner of the Tour de France and take out
the Scody's People Choice award – the public's vote for their favourite
cyclist – your) vote – was, for me, as big a deal as Evans taking
his fourth 'Oppy Medal', which, let's face it, was a fait accompli.
"When you have an Australian win the Tour de France, there can be no
other winner," Klaus Mueller, the president of Cycling Australia and one
of the three-member voting panel, told the sell-out audience Friday
night.

For the public to vote this way is an affirmation of not
just Meares' results, which were spectacular in themselves, but the
Queenslander's transcendental qualities as Australian cycling's greatest
living ambassador.

Humble as always, Anna looked genuinely
surprised as she received what amounts to unbridled verification of
public sentiment towards her: "I was gobsmacked and I haven't been
speechless for quite a while – I seriously thought Cadel's name was
written all over that.

"Geez, I would have even voted for him. I
honestly thought that Cadel would win [the People's Choice award]. In
that respect, it makes me realise the incredible following that I have
and the amazing support network of the Australian public. It's very
special."

As the audience inside The Ivy Room, one of bar mogul
Justin Hemmes' salubrious Sydney establishments, sat captivated, Rob
Arnold, publishing editor of RIDE magazine, leaned over and said to me: "She's the best. She's just the best."

"I
feel like I did exceed my own expectations," Meares said of her season
that culminated in a hat-trick of gold medals at the 2011 track world
championships in Apeldoorn, Holland, winning the match sprint, keirin,
and team sprint with her partner Kaarle McCulloch.

"I had a very
successful season, and in the debrief I had with [national track coach]
Gary West, we realised I had 17 starts at the national level and above,
and 15 of those races were won with gold medals."

Her comeback
from the horrific accident sustained at the Los Angeles round of the
Track World Cup in January 2008 was nothing short of miraculous. Back
home in Adelaide though wheelchair-bound, she told journalists the day
after André Greipel won the 2008 Tour Down Under: "I realise that I'm
pretty lucky with the injuries I've come away with. The C2 vertebra, so
I've been told, is the one that controls your breathing, and if that
goes, so too does your life."

Two millimetres more, her doctors told her, and she would have been a quadriplegic.

Following
a murderous period of rehabilitation, her first session back on the
bike lasted all of one or two minutes. "I felt so uplifted after that
first session on the bike and it just made me want to get back on it
again and again," she said, unperturbed.

Weeks later she was
holding her own against the blokes on the bike and in the gym, lifting
more iron than some of her male counterparts. By July Meares went close
to setting a personal best for the 200-metre sprint, comfortably
qualifying for that year's Olympic Games in Beijing, where she finished
second to Britain's Victoria Pendleton in the match sprint.

After Apeldoorn, she now has the edge on 'Queen Vicky', the sobriquet the Poms admiringly grant her.

However
whatever happens from now till the London Games is largely irrelevant
in the grander scheme of things, for Anna has already won. She is alive,
healthy, and happy – what more do you want in life?

We find
ourselves mesmerised by her tenacity, enamoured by her charm whenever
she speaks, and wishing – willing – her to soar to even greater heights,
but always mindful and perhaps a little anxious of the clear and
present danger Anna places herself in every time she races.

Like Cadel, though, the latter is not a source of unease for her; the way they see it, a live lived in fear is life half-lived.

Her challenge leading into London, however, will be arguably more mental than physical.

"I've
never gone into an Olympic Games with the aura of being one of the
favourites. So that's a mental challenge for me," said Meares, "and I'm
looking to learn some new skills and acquire some new strategies to deal
with that. And I think that the team that I have around me will help me
do it."

Quite clearly, her "team" around her also includes the rest of Australia.

Twitter: @anthony_tan